Top Down vs. Bottom Up

What is to be done?

The goal of the modern conservative movement at the national level is to elect a President, a majority of the House of Representatives and sixty Senators who share Ronald Reagan’s commitment to individual liberty and limited government: actual control of the levers of power in the hands of principled conservatives.

Reagan’s presidency taught us that holding the presidency but not both houses of Congress was not enough. The Clinton years taught us that Republican majorities in Congress can be stymied by a Democrat President. The Bush years taught us that you cannot change the world without 60 votes in the Senate to overcome filibusters.

And Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and two Bushes reminded us, often painfully, that electing Republicans and electing Reagan Republicans are not the same thing. Republican majorities in Congress have not yet meant conservative majorities.

Today the Republican Party — the only possible vehicle for the conservative movement — has no President, only 176 of 435 congressmen and 40 of 100 senators. The good news is that Barack Obama really is a community organizer. His hard left turn, massive spending and regulation explosion has inspired the Tea Party movement, led to Republican victories in New Jersey and Virginia and now Rasmussen reports that the generic ballot question shows likely voters plan to vote for a Republican over a Democrat for Congress by a seven point margin — enough to sweep Congress in 2010.

Looking at the House of Representatives there are 49 congressional districts that were carried by McCain in 2008 and 82 congressional districts won by George W. Bush in 2004 that are now held by a Democrat. These districts have made clear they are willing to vote for a Republican if given a chance.

Good … but … how can conservative activists best ensure that Republican gains in 2010 are also conservative gains? What would it profit a movement to win the House filled with RINOs?

One Republican National Committeeman from Indiana believes he has the answer. James Bopp says he will ask the 150-member Republican National Committee (RNC) to pass a resolution demanding that any Republican candidate pass a litmus test consisting of ten issues before he or she is eligible for funding and support from the Republican National Committee.

The Bopp resolution and the ten-point litmus test are poorly written and its "key issue" list is certainly debatable. The fourth test in the resolution would put candidates in opposition to Right to Work Laws by endorsing the idea that it is okay for 51% of employees in a company to vote to force the 49% to join a union. This is certainly not viewed by most Reagan Republicans as just or fair. The sixth test would require Republican candidates for Congress to promise to follow the advice of generals appointed by President Obama. Apart from upending the American tradition of civilian control of the military this goes further and subordinates Republican congressmen to the judgment of generals who are promoted and/or fired by Obama. Why would anyone wish to endorse that?

Beyond the specifics of the ten-point test there is a real question about whether the Republican Party needs more top-down control or would do better with greater input from the bottom up. The Reagan challenge to the GOP establishment came from the grassroots. If the RNC had voted on who got party support, Reagan would have been cut out. Placing more power in the hands of the RNC members means handing control to party chairmen who are too often appointed by governors — not elected from the grassroots.

The RNC has 100 votes for national committeemen and women who are sometimes quite serious conservative activists but in other cases are positions given to donors or granted as lifetime achievement awards.

Conservatives would be stronger in the party and nominating process if candidates looked to voters — not a party hierarchy — for guidance on maintaining principle.

The drive for a test of ideological purity comes from the unpleasant experience of New York’s 23rd congressional district where the local party county chairmen appointed Ms. Scozzafava to run in a special election. The challenge there was not a liberal bias in the RNC or NRCC, but bad judgment on the part of local New York party officials and the lack of a primary test for the candidates that could have weeded out a candidate like Scozzafava with a long record of voting for higher taxes, more spending and goodies for labor union bosses. The good news for conservatives and the Republican Party is the uniqueness of NY-23.

The lessons of NY-23 are being learned. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has announced that it will not involve itself in primaries. This appears to be an admission that their original and premature endorsement of Florida Governor Crist was an error that will not be repeated. The National Republican Congressional Committee is meeting more regularly with conservative organizations to avoid problems like NY-23 and the good news is that there are no such train wrecks on the horizon.

Conservatives are correct in not trusting party leaders to always make the right decisions in primaries or even in allocating resources in races. But the proper response is for more conservatives to take the time and effort to get involved at the local and state parties and to continue the long march through the institutions of the Republican Party.

The 10 Principles in the Proposed Resolution

1. We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s "stimulus" bill.

2. We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run health care.

3. We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation.

4. We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check.

5 We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants.

6. We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges.

7. We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat.

8. We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act.

9. We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion.

10. We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership.